The internet, the media channel of preference for the younger generations, may sometimes seem like a marketers’ paradise, with users offering private information willingly, on their blogs or social media accounts, and thus allowing brands to make their messages more and more personal. But there is more to the industry than meets the eye. Digital agencies explain to Business Review what this new, and just as cool, offspring of advertising is all about.
Although some would argue that digital marketing encompasses more traditional media channels, like television or radio, which use modern, digital technologies, the concept is generally acknowledged as internet/e-marketing, as it focuses on the usage of the internet for the promotion of brands.
Whether these brands communicate about their products through social media (with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn the most used such tools), Search Engine Optimization techniques, viral marketing or the most common and ever-intrusive banner, it is all about creativity and innovation in this domain, in order to gain the skeptical and often passive viewer’s attention.
Not so long ago, in 2000, the online communication market could more accurately be referred to as “the web design market,” says Bogdan Nitu, general manager of Webstyler, one of the oldest digital agencies on the market, chosen as Agency of the Year in 2010 at Internetics, the Romanian online industry awards. “The question we needed to answer back then was ‘Why do I need a website?’ In 2000, online meant web development and that was just about it. There were only a few agencies trying to offer professional services and numerous freelancers. Demanding USD 2,000-3,000 for the creation of a website seemed complete madness back then, since a freelancer only asked for USD 100-200,” he continues.
Nowadays, the importance of online has gained a lot more meaning. “To me, online is more than a simple media channel. It’s more like a place where people spend an important part of their lives. And the challenge for brands is finding a place in consumers’ digital lives,” states Nitu. “The digital presence of a brand does not mean just banner formats and viral spots, but the relationship that it creates with consumers and the experience that it offers to them,” he says.
Alex Visa, managing partner at HyperActive, a full service digital agency created in 2008 and affiliated to the Lowe & Partners group in 2009, describes the formula for any digital agency seeking success: “In this medium, it is the consumers, not the brand or the advertiser, who lead the conversation, set the discussion topics and ultimately have the control, will and power to shape how the brand evolves.”
Although many would argue that there is not much difference between digital and traditional forms of communication, since the two serve the same purpose, that of brand promotion, Visa disagrees. “It is quite difficult to list the differences and similarities between digital and traditional comms. It’s like Europe versus North America. Still on the same planet, still humans on both sides of the pond, however the best way to compare the two is to just say they are literally two worlds apart.”
The true difference between the two lies in interaction, he however explains: “Above all, digital offers a two-way communication medium between any two parties. Tools used by communicators in digital marketing are just an adaptation of interaction possibilities available for the benefit of a brand.”
On the same note, Calin Buzea, managing partner at full-service interactive agency MRM Worldwide Romania, part of McCann Group, believes that the most important differentiator between traditional and digital lies in “the power and influence that clients and consumers exercise. In traditional advertising, their interaction is reduced to a minimum, while, in digital, the consumer is in charge, as he/she may hold a direct influence on the brand’s image. Other differences are also found in segmentation and targeting, which are more precise in digital marketing, as well as in the greater room for creativity that this space provides.”
On the same theme, Cristian Pantazi, manager, creative director and founder of the Kaleidoscope digital shop, integrated into BBDO Group Romania as of 2010, believes that “the difference between the two is medium-wise, in the sense that both are based on the idea/concept. (…) Not the medium is the message (although there are still many who believe that). The instruments may differ, but at the basis remains the idea.”
Traditional comms have their share of nostalgia value for those that have made the switch to digital: “I remember with pleasure the times when I was eagerly waiting for the newspaper to come out of the printer to see what the ad I just published there for one of my customers looked like,” confesses Visa. “On the other hand, having an ad created and than able to see its performance in less than two hours is another unparalleled wonder of the digital world I live and work in. And I love it. Today I cannot imagine life without Google, the mobile or social networks… or just simply without the internet,” he adds.
Offering the perspective of the advertiser formed in the so-called traditional comms, Adrian Botan, Creative Partner at McCann Erickson, believes that “a new technology doesn’t kill (immediately) the old one, hence the advertising that comes with it will survive as well. What will change is the way marketing is done – due to the digital migration of traditional platforms (digital TV, radio etc.) and the proliferation of new digital platforms – we are facing more and more sophisticated digital consumers and this will allow increased addressability, measurability and interactivity of the messages. So, I think the whole marketing paradigm is shifting under our own very eyes. As for the advertising itself it will become less of a TV driven business, but rather a marketing driven one”. What’s more, as Botan adds, “The silo mentality is not working in the brave new digital world and relegating digital to a “department” is the biggest mistake marketers and agencies are making. Thus, digital should be integrated in every aspect of one’s work, it should not be dealt with separately, and, as the creative partner emphasizes, “a communication agency needs to think and act digitally”, not hold a separate digital department.
Another difference between the two styles, traditional and digital, lies in measuring a campaign’s success, which in the case of the latter is much more precise and can be more easily reduced to facts and figures. As Nitu explains, the results often “depend on the objective, which may be awareness, consumer relationship or sales leads. Objectives may also consist of data collection, consumer profiling or loyalty.” Alexandru Negrea, social media manager at BCR and one of the best-known bloggers of the moment in Romania, adds, “In the case of lead generation campaigns, success is translated as a high conversion rate (e.n. the ratio of visitors who, out of the total viewers, after accessing a website take the action desired by the brand, e.g: purchase the product). In the case of an image campaign, success equals a high number of visitors on the landing page.”
Or, as Visa more pragmatically states regarding the results of a digital campaign, Last but not least, it still comes down to sales,” although he also puts focus on such targets as “user response to project task, number of people getting involved, advocacy and amplification from users,” which also count very much to clients. Pantazi however draws attention to the qualitative component, “the sentiment with which people retain about the brand after a campaign, the most difficult to measure, yet the most important by far” and which goes beyond the typical quantitative coordinates, “users, viewers, the usual.” Buzea says the same: “We count neither clients nor homepage views; what we do count is people’s reactions – how many comments they submit, what their opinion is. We are permanently interested in their feedback.”
Digital campaign budgets are also on the rise as proof of their increase in importance. However, digital agency managers were reluctant to disclose the sums and. Visa said the largest budget that he has ever worked with was in Canada, in 2007, which was USD 3.5 million / year. “Where Canada has managed to move faster than us here in Romania is to prove to marketers that online is a feasible and ROI-generating medium worth investing more than 5-7 percent of the total marketing budget in,” Visa says, adding that digital is on the rise here is, as well, since his agency’s 2010 turnover increased by over 50 percent compared to 2009.According to Nitu, it is not the client’s digital background that counts, since, as he puts it, “The client’s specialization is not very important, it is his/her openness to understanding the digital medium” that counts. On the same subject, Pantazi adds, ”Digital is a new medium to many, not necessarily in the sense of usage, because we all have Facebook or email accounts (or whatever everybody uses). However, using it to communicate a brand is more complicated. What matters is wanting to learn.”
Turning to the tools of digital marketing. Nitu believes that here, as with more traditional marketing tools, the key to efficiency is “creativity and innovation, regardless of the format. People respond very well to new things, to new experiences. Today, Facebook is in fashion, but tomorrow who knows what will be next in line? Therefore, we must not rely on format/support, but on ideas. The thing that will always make a difference is the creative aspect.” Negrea recommends Facebook for efficient social media campaigns, “since it offers access to a community of 2.5 million Romanians, the largest such community” and also the most accessed website in the world in 2010, he adds.
Visa sees this communication tool as more appropriate for business-to-consumer (B2C) approaches (rather than B2B). “Nevertheless, we could name two tactics that can be considered for use in a wide range of digital projects: e-mail marketing and SEO/SEM.”
But should any brand, regardless of its area, focus on a strong online presence? Negrea believes the offline and online components are of equal importance to a brand, as it should, most importantly, communicate, irrelevant of the means. “Not every product needs to communicate online, but the recommendation is to try and to analyze the results. (…) As long as the product addresses a wide audience and, implicitly, internet users, there are plenty of reasons to communicate with the aid of social networks or blogs.”
All in all, players agree that digital by no means spells the death of traditional, when it comes to brand communication. “They will coexist and mingle together up to a point,” says Visa. Buzea agrees that, traditional will not be replaced. “Theatre and radio did not disappear when cinema appeared. I believe that digital marketing is simply a new means of promotion, which needs to be integrated into the previous media. Digital complements traditional, it does not